There are nearly 4,000 miles of land, lakes, rivers and oceans between Minnesota and Birmingham, England, but the message inspired by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police resonated powerfully as the Premier League resumed competition after a three-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a moment of silence was observed in memory of those lives lost to the coronavirus, a countdown clock was visible on the video board at Villa Park, where Aston Villa and Sheffield United were ready to begin the first EPL game since the March 13 shutdown. As it reached zero, referee Michael Oliver blew his whistle to signal that Sheffield should kick of to start the game.
Instead, on the sound of the whistle, Oliver and all 22 players on the field took a knee in memory of Floyd and to support the cause of racial justice. They held that position for a dozen seconds, then got up without prompting and began the game.
Both clubs who are playing in the Premier League's first match of the resumed season - Aston Villa and Sheffield United - took a knee for the first moments of today's match. pic.twitter.com/CoLgdZ9ruL
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 17, 2020
It was as powerful a statement as one could imagine seeing on an athletic field. But that was not the whole of it. The Aston Villa and Sheffield United players had the words “Black Lives Matter” arched across their back shoulders, where one ordinarily might find their surnames, and a similar patch on their sleeves.
A reminder that all Premier League players' names will be replaced by 'Black Lives Matter' for the first 12 games of the restart.
Aston Villa also showed their support pre-match. pic.twitter.com/qvpJYke3ke
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) June 17, 2020
None of the players on the field were American. Neither side has a U.S. player in its squad. Aston Villa is owned, in part, by American businessman Wes Edens.
But the message sent by last month’s tragedy obviously has superseded national boundaries. Floyd’s death, which occurred after now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his back and neck for nearly nine minutes, launched a movement that led to demonstrations by players in Germany’s Bundesliga, as well.
Aston Villa and Sheffield United were proud to stand in solidarity with the actions of the players and coaching staff of both football clubs during the first ten seconds of tonight’s Premier League fixture, expressing our collective support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) June 17, 2020
A statement released by AVFC read:
“Aston Villa and Sheffield United were proud to stand in solidarity with the actions of the players and coaching staff of both football clubs during the first ten seconds of tonight’s Premier League fixture, expressing our collective support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“In the first Premier League fixture of Project Restart both clubs hope that the act of ‘taking a knee’ will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family.”